For the last few months one story has dominated our media; how well Sevco have been doing on their “journey” to the SPL.
This story revolves mostly around their manager, Mark Warburton, and the allegedly fantastic job he’s done with the team over the course of this season.
This culminated in the outpouring of hyperbole and nonsense following their cup semi-final win over Celtic last Sunday. Rarely in the history of the Scottish media has more outright guff been talked about a team’s progress towards the league title.
I want to cast a new light on that progress, and about the so-called Warburton miracle.
You see, it’s a myth. More than that, it’s an outright lie.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first.
This isn’t an attempt to get Celtic off the hook.
Celtic have been woeful, and our manager is paying for that with his job.
But that, you see, is the very point I’m trying to make. Ronny Deila has been at Celtic for two seasons. At no time during that did the media allow him to get on with the job without criticising. Deila arrived in Scotland already a league and cup winner.
He had five years of managerial experience behind him.
Mark Warburton arrived with 12 months in the dugout behind him.
He had never won a major honour, and he still hasn’t.
Neither the Petrofac Cup nor the second tier title in Scotland count for much outside of these borders.
As I’ve written a lot, and very unsentimentally, about how bad Celtic are this season, and I’ve watched my share of Sevco games as well, I feel well qualified to analyse their performances in relation to ours, and how the media covered them both.
For openers, some of their performances have been dire.
Don’t let the media kid you about that. A lot of them have been very similar to our own, eerily similar. They’ve had the occasional great result, and some very good displays, but they have been bookended by days when so many of their players just don’t seem to turn up for a shift.
Let me tell you something else that stands out a mile.
Their manager has just as little tactical sense as Ronny Deila does. It was most noticeable in the cup semi-final, when neither boss had a clue how to break down the other team. That’s why the game was decided on penalties, and why it took a long range strike from Barrie McKay to even get them that far.
Watch that game.
Celtic actually made the better chances.
Yet all Warburton was able to do to counter us was make a series of like-for-like substitutions.
Where’s the imagination?
Where’s the managerial flair?
I saw no evidence of it.
Next, look at their results against certain teams in the league.
Alloa, Hibs, Falkirk and Raith come to mind. Warburton initially had good results against these teams, but later games were tougher, and that suggests that clubs have adapted to playing against them very quickly, much as they adapted to playing against Ronny Deila’s Celtic.
But the really interesting things are to be found when you look at the league tables for the SPL and the Championship.
Celtic’s much maligned season boils down to bad performances in Europe and an SPL title race where we’ve dropped a lot of points.
Leaving Europe aside, the media’s hysteria over the last few months has been about domestic form.
We reached two cup semi-finals. Excluding the Petrofac Cup, which no-one in the media even cared about until recently, I’d say Sevco’s record and ours are broadly comparable. They’ve reached a final, but they crashed out of the League Cup in the early rounds. If we’re basing this on cup form then surely Alan Stubbs has a claim to having done well; his side, after all, has reached two finals and may yet win one of them.
It’s there that most people who’ve not looked might be surprised; in fact, the two clubs have had very similar seasons in terms of their league form.
Sevco has won the Championship already, of course, and after 34 games they have 80 points. Their goal difference is plus 55. This has been much heralded by the Scottish media, of course. Yet if you look at the SPL table what do you find?
Celtic, yet to win the title, sit on 77 points after the same number of games. We’re three points away from five in a row.
Our own goal difference column is plus 53, which never gets talked about.
We arrived at that destination via 23 wins, 8 draws and 3 defeats. Sevco arrived at theirs via 25 wins, 5 draws and 4 defeats. We scored 79 goals along the way. They scored 86. In the top flight, we conceded 26 goals. In a league filled with part time teams, car mechanics, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, they conceded 31.
I can tell you right now that the stats are a fair reflection on the respective performances of both teams. Neither has set the heather on fire. To give you some idea of what Sevco has “accomplished” here, take a look at Hearts last season. With a fraction of Sevco’s resources they managed to amass 91 points. They scored 96 goals. They conceded just 26. Their goal difference column was plus 70. That more than compares with what Warburton has done.
Moreover, Hibs finished the season on 70 points last time around; at the moment they have 64 points. Win their next two games, and they’ll match last season’s display. They’ve stood still; it’s an unarguable fact. And yet they, and Falkirk, have conceded only 3 more goals than the Ibrox club over the course of this campaign.
Had those teams possessed better forward going players things might look different in the second tier right now.
Now, unquestionably Sevco has improved, dramatically, on last season’s performance. It wouldn’t have been hard to do. They finished that campaign on 67 points; a dismal and pathetic display. But has their performance this season merited the hype that surrounds them? Had they not reached the Scottish Cup final, how exactly would it be spun as more than just a team going through the motions and doing what was expected of them?
I’ve been saying this for months; the great Sevco “recovery” is based on a false premise.
In truth, they’ve been no better this season than we have.
The only difference is how the media chose to highlight poor form on one side and not on the other.
I repeat, at no time was Warburton put under pressure by the press.
They’ve had occasional games where they’ve shown some flair; you expect that from a team who’s spending advantage over their closest challengers is something like four or five to one. The quality of opposition leaves a lot to be desired too.
Celtic has also flared briefly; in certain games we’ve risen above jaded performances and put teams away with aplomb.
No-one at Parkhead was kidding themselves after those fixtures.
But then we haven’t spent years beyond count living in a fantasy world where great things are just around the corner, and we won’t do it now, even when they might well be.